Monday, 18 January 2016

Burkina Faso

The alarm went off at 5am, but as we had planned an awesome trip, there was none of that "Agh... 5minutes longer" feeling you'd have when the alarm would go on Monday morning ready for a new week at work. This was a "YAY... HIPPO'S" feeling! We got up, made some jam sandwiches for brekkie and met our guide at the campsite entrance. It was still dark so we carefully walked the 5minutes to the river. He got the pirogue ready and helped us get on without getting our shoes wet.

He slowly pushed us off the bank and waded our way through the weeds until we got to the open water. We slowly moved up the river as he used his oar to push us along. It was incredibly peaceful as we watched the sun rise above the river making all the lilies come to life as they started to flower around us. We were all saying that if we don't see hippos this was so worth it anyways. The beauty was unreal! Birds flew around us enjoying a bit of fishing. Fishermen started decending onto the river, collecting their nets in hope to see a catch. And all while the sun was creating beautiful colours over the water.
We went up the river and he said we would start making our way back on the other side and he would do his best to find the hippos. At this point we were so content by our experience so far, we would be happy just to see the sunrise above the water. So we continued up the river so peacefully with not a breath of wind, just the sound of the birds singing. Just then we heard a massive, loud cry from a hippo that was just metres away from us. We were ecstatic! There were two enjoying a morning swim, bobbing their heads to the surface to get some air. We sat there for about 20min watching them and our surroundings. Eventually the guide asked if we could make our way back. So we said goodbye to the hippos and returned to the other side of the river. 
The guide started picking out purple flowers out of the river until he thought he had enough. We sat their in silence not sure what he was up to. He started breaking the stems and creating patterns with them, until eventually he put the flower necklace he had made around my neck and Cats. Then he put the flower crown on our heads as well. This was soooo cute and topped off a very beautiful morning out! A real treat!

Back at camp we put down the tents, said goodbye and thank you to Solo (the campsite owner) and made our way to Bobo-Diabollasi, the second largest city in Burkina. After a long day of uninspiring driving (on tar the whole way), we arrived at La Pacha Campement which was a lovely place with a beautiful tree covered courtyard in a fantastic location, close to the centre. As we arrived early we decided to take a stroll to the grande marche (big market) to see what that was all about as in the lonely planet guide it had said it was a must. 
We strolled in and within seconds we had men shouting for us to follow them to their stalls. One man had latched onto me and started running to his stall making sure I was keeping up by snapping his fingers at me to FLOLLOW... FOLLOW! This was frustrating, but highly amusing and becoming hilarious! But I wasn't warming to having him snap his fingers in my face so making sure Cat was with me, I darted off down an alley way in hope to lose him. Just as I thought I was successful, he reappeared still not grasping that the finger snapping was getting him nowhere. 
Cat found a stall that had ready made skirts made of beautiful colourful fabric. She did some crazy bargaining even with her limited French. She did great! And left with a beautiful yellow, blue and white patterned designed skirt after the men showed her how to wear it. 
Unfortunately they didn't have material I liked, so the search continued for me. Eventually we found a stall that had a few designs, I still wasn't settled on a design I liked as they were all lacking pink; but everyone was getting incredibly overwhelmed with all the sellers bombarding us. So I eventually chose one after the men kept flinging one after another around my waist. 

After the craziness we experienced inside, we thought we had earned the right for a beer after our hard work in the musty, dark alleyways with people shouting and chasing us for our business. So we sat down and ordered a very cheap couple of rounds, drinking Brakinas (Burkina Faso lager) for 600CFA each (£0.65). Another great ending to a very awesome day.

The next morning we ventured into town again in search of wifi. Bobo offered next to no options besides a small Internet cafe which Cat and I decided would have to do the job. We needed to check on our bank accounts and touch base with the family, especially because it was Cat's moms birthday coming up and wanted to make sure we sent our Happy Birthday messages while we had a connection. Well this was to be another true African experience. The computers were a frustration on their own with the keyboards being out of sink with what you were typing. You pressed a full stop (.) And a colon (:) appeared... You pressed the at sign (@) and a smaller than sign appeared (<). This proved so frustrating especially when trying to type in passwords, when every icon you entered shows up as a ******. Well it's safe to say that we spent the whole hour just trying to log in and then with the connection being awful nothing loaded, so we asked the cafe owner if we could use the wifi instead and would use our own devices. We let the family know we were all ok, but we soon saw that there was an avalanche a few days ago near the resort where Cats dad was skiing. As it was taking ages to load we couldn't see the full extent of the disaster, and Cat could see there were messages from her family but they wouldn't load. This was awful and Cat was becoming increasingly worried about her Dad and family. My heart poured out to her as we were stuck there helpless. Luckily she managed to chat to her brother that confirmed everything was ok and her dad was safe and sound. 
Still a scary thought to know that if anything did happen at home, we are miles away with very little access to to our family. We are getting used to not watching the news everyday, or Facebook or other media sights; but it's times like this when those things have there place.

After running out of the time we had bought in the Internet cafe we met the boys for a drink at the pub. We obviously made an impression as the barman brought us drinks without us needing to place an order. Now that is service! After our drink we headed off to find some street food for our lunch. We decided on one which turned out to be rank! A green fish stew with a gross wheat jelly goo called T么, and rice with another brown stew. This apparently is a traditional meal in Burkina Faso. It was horrendous and Cat and I tried our best but in the end surrendered our plastic plates to the boys. Surprisingly enough Rob loved it. He's generally the one that has the biggest food dislikes out of the 4 of us, but Sod's law, he liked this while we hated it. 
So we thought the best way to solve this awful taste we now had in our mouths was with a cold beer before heading back to camp ready for our wood-fired pizzas that night. While wondering back to camp we came across a cute little shop run by a very sweet woman selling more fabric. We liked her and her fabric so much that Cat and myself ended up buying 2 different ones each for £8.60 for 3metres worth. 
Back at camp, we ordered our pizzas with the poor ladies laughing at how many we ordered. The boys scoffed down 2 whole pizzas each, Cat and I had one each, and we shared a cheesy garlic pizza between us (something they had never heard of before, but were happy to make for us)... some would think these boys were deprived of food, but low and behold they were just being big piggies! 

We woke up the next day and rolled out of bed to find a SIM card which would give us access to the Internet. The lovely lady at the campsite helped us out, as she road off on her scooter to get us airtime and we were soon connected. Then our lovely travel parents drove round into the campsite. We certainly weren't expecting to see Gil and Marlane again, but it was a lovely surprise. We swapped stories of our travels from Mali to Bobo and our border crossing experiences. 
That night we enjoyed our first salad as Bobo had lusciously green lettuce and bright coloured fruit and veg. It was just what the doctor ordered after our pig out session of pizzas the night before. Gil and Marlane joined us after dinner offering us a splash of Guinness. Just then the owner came to us to tell us about the attacks that were happening in the capital, Ouagadougou, where we were planning to go to organise visas for Togo and Benin. So we needed a new plan. But first we were headed to the Nazinga game reserve so we had some time to re-evaluate our routes.

We woke up early the next morning as we had a long drive ahead of us. Marlane and Gil spoilt us once again and had woken up early to pop to the bakery to buy us a croissant each for breakfast and 4 French breads for on the road. Gil even made us a coffee each... Such a lovely couple and it was once again sad to say goodbye to our travel folks who we have grown to really love.

Our long drive through tar and gravel roads meant that we were pushing our luck for time as the park closes at 6pm. It was 5:15 and we still hadn't arrived to any gates surrounding the park, and the campsite was in the heart of it according to lonely planet. We had driven past village after village with no sign of the park on the road, and the roads seemed inaccessible for any normal vehicle. How could this be leading to a tourist destination? Just then Rob and I noticed 2 large elephants happily grazing next to us. We radioed to the others to slow down. They were magnificent and totally not worried about us sat next to them. A guy on a bicycle, cycled up to us and when we noticed the ellies immediately got off his bike and started edging behind our cars for a bit of safety. He told us this was where they sleep for the night, but the poor guy was petrified and edged to Charles' car before running in the opposite direction. Weird how these elephants were so close to the villages. We could have sat there for hours just watching them but we needed to get to camp, so we had to say goodbye and keep going.

We arrived at camp (Ranch de Nazinga) where they told us they wouldn't allow us to camp and we had to take a room. They charged us 10000CFA per person for the park entry fee, 10000CFA for the room, 1000CFA for the vehicle and 2000CFA for a camera permit. They told us we could not visit the park without a guide for an extra cost. This was so annoying! We only have two seats in the car so aren't able to facilitate a guide. But he told us we could drive straight through to the next campsite the next morning only along the main road. Not much we could do about that and paid our 33000CFA (£38). I felt awful as I suggested we come here and now it turned out to be so expensive! 

We checked out the rooms, this being the first room we would stay in since leaving the uk! So this would be an incredibly different nights sleep! There were 3beds in a room with its own bathroom. The pillows were stuffed with what felt like straw and the blanket reminded me of the blankets they had in Nelson Mandelas cell on Robbin Island. But all in all it was clean enough(besides the stain ridden walls).
We wondered down to the watering hole hoping to see some wildlife before the sun went down. Not much was happening so we stood around just soaking up the sights. We then heard the trees rustling on the other side of the bank and all of a sudden a massive herd of elephants (about 30 of them) decended onto the lake. Little baby ones on tow sticking to the mothers sides. This was incredible. It was a pity the sun was going down and couldn't get decent pics, but we were lucky to see them. We even got to see the young adults play fighting as they grumpled and trumped out some load screams. This made our £38 a night so worth it! 

We decided to get up before sunrise to spend our morning watching the sun come up and to see if any animals made their way down for an early morning drink. So we needed another early night. Cat and I made our dinner while Rob and Charles tried to shoo out the bat that Rob had found in our room. Eventually it did fly out, thank goodness! I'd already been poo'd on 4 times on this trip by birds, I didn't need to add bat poo to the list as well! 

It was an interesting nights sleep with what sounded like a party happening in our roof with bats squeaking and something large running up and down creating a ruckus up there. Our first nights sleep in a room was eventful, never a dull moment here in Africa!
We woke up early and headed down to the watering hole. Unfortunately no elephants came to wish us a good morning, but we did see two bush bucks, a huge amount of crocodiles and number of birds, like vultures, plovers, swallows, Hadeda's and Hamerkops. Watching the sun come up is always a treat and we enjoyed our chilled morning. 
Driving through the park was less lucky than our experience the day before with us not seeing much besides 2 waterbuck far in the distance, almost hidden by the long brown grass, and a big group of baboons.

We arrived to the next camp site (Campement i'Elephant)  that said once again they wouldn't allow us to camp but had to take a room. This was getting expensive at 30000CFA (£34)for the night! We were used to Burkina being cheap as anything. So we made the most of this camp site and spent the rest of the afternoon next to the pool reading and enjoying some down time in the sweltering heat! 
The rooms were pretty much the same as before but the pillows were much more comfy! Thank goodness! And only two friends spent the night with us, a furry spider and a miniature scorpion, but at least they were considerate and stayed quiet for us! 

With everything that was happening in Ouagadougou, we decided to head straight for the border of Togo and hopefully we could get our visas on the border instead of getting the Visa Entente (5 country visa for C么te d'Ivoire, Burkina, Niger, Togo and Benin which is much cheaper and only issued in Ouagadougou) so we are hoping we have no issues. 
On our way we stopped off at Waetenga Campement to cut the driving. This looked like it was once a really nice place but unfortunately it was closed due to lack of tourists. The guard told us that he would be happy for us to stay there though and at a small fee of 3000CFA (£3.40) for the night. That's a better price! No showers but he organised a toilet that we just needed to flush with a bucket. And went off into town to get us a container of water. Such a sweet guy. 

As we had a late lunch we decided to skip dinner and sat spending the night playing dirty Uno. After it got dark we were suddenly surrounded by 5 police officers all carrying AK47's that said they were there for security and that we couldn't stay there. Bugger! It was highly intimidating as they asked to see our documents. We showed them our passports and other documents and they asked to inspect the vehicles. We hauled out all our boxes, showing them our fridge, food, crockery, bush pig (braai box), clothes box and explained the items on the roof. They seemed to come around and eventually said thank you for our time and that we should enjoy our evening. Hand shakes all round and they left happy. 
Actually, considering the attacks in Ouagadougou, it was actually a blessing to know they were looking out for our safety and just making sure everything was in order. Shame, even the poor guy staying on site came out to us after hearing the commotion in his towel, obviously being interrupted while having a wash. He wanted to make sure everything was OK. 
We ended up laughing about it that evening talking about how we see the police as being scary here because of their stern faces, tall, strong physics and of course covered in bullet vests and large weaponery that hang off them. When actually they are just doing their job making sure everyone is doing as they should.

Driving in Burkina Faso now is a military affair with check points ever few kilometres as they check your documents and often want to look in the cars. They really have tightened up the security which is a good thing considering. Such a sad thing really to know these attacks are going to hinder tourism as this country and its people are so friendly and beautiful. We have loved Burkina Faso!  

Friday, 15 January 2016

Mali to Burkina Faso

After arriving at the Sleeping Camel, we enjoyed a much needed beer with a bacon burger and chips. This seems like a normal everyday meal... but for us... This was incredible! Every mouthful was amazing with the crispy bacon being a delicacy in our lives on the road in West Africa! We enjoyed chatting to some of the guys that work for the UN in helping train the locals on disarming IED's and helping educate them among other things. This seemed like the local meeting point where these guys enjoy a bit of down time from their hectic and dangerous jobs.

In the morning our mission was to get the Nigerian visa which we heard was a battle for most people normally taking between 5 to 10 working days, so we were nervous to see what we would be faced with at the embassy. I had seen online that the embassy opens at 8am, so we got up early to get there before it opened. It took us under half an hour to walk to the embassy which was a small rundown building with no signs anywhere to suggest it was an embassy. We read on the notice board that visas were to be applied for on Tuesday's and Thursday's. Crap! It was a Monday. We approached the guard to try our luck and he said they would help us anyways, but only after 10am. We decided we would walk back to camp for a cup of coffee, stopping at the supermarket for a few bits a long the way. 

After returning to the embassy, we walked in, greeted the security guard and were told to sit on the bench. We ended up sitting there in this tiny room with old stains and dirt all over the wall, watching the A Team  in French on a small TV. We eventually were given our application forms which were, thank goodness, in English for a change!! They asked for strange info compared to other application forms; like what colour eyes and hair we had, and any other distinguishing features; but very little info about our passport details, which we found amusing. They needed 1 copy of our passports and 2 photos.
About an hour after waiting an official looking gentlemen happened to walk through and asked if we'd been seen to yet. We told him no, but that we were in no rush (acting like you have all the time in the world seems to be the best way of getting the officials to help you)... And we didn't mind as we were enjoying watching the French dubbed movie. He asked us about the purpose of our travel and seemed a little annoyed when we couldn't give him in detailed itinerary, but I brought out my lonely planet guide and showed him a few points of interest which he seemed OK with. He advised us to be sure about where to travel and keep up to date with the travel advise and therefore our safety, keeping clear of the north. After this stern but friendly interrogation, we weren't expecting much success. But he told us to wait a little longer.
He eventually called us through to a room with sofas and a TV which had Nigerian news on it. Again we sat and waited until the official came through. He told us the price (66500CFA = £75 each) and said to come back at 2pm the next day..... Really?? Was it going to be that easy? 
Well, we weren't about to complain and left hoping everything would go through smoothly the next day.

We got back to camp, where we were met by the big bus load, Oasis Overland, of 21 people we had met in the Zebra Bar in Senegal. It was a bit like greeting long last best friends again; which is so awesome! They would stay for 4 nights which only meant one thing.... Very drunken evenings ahead of us!
That night certainly was drunken, and Rob ended up pulling his usual trick and passed out on the sofa after only a few beers and the odd tequila (Ruslin, one of the travellers in the camp, had sold his car that day and therefore was giving us tequila to help celebrate... Not that we were complaining 馃槣)

 We all had a good chuckle at Rob as he snored the night away. It was only until the morning did we realise he had been totally attacked by the mosquitos while passed out on the couch, and was bitten like crazy around any bit of skin that was on show. Particularly his feet and his lower back where his shirt must have ridden up. This most certainly was a lesson learned as he looked like he had caught a bad case of the chicken pox.
I have since realised I need to play the role of 'mommy', and make sure he puts mosquito creams and sprays on every night.... Particularly when he's drinking! Lol!!

We had a slow morning as we were all feeling a little fragile. We had met a toureg that evening that offered us to go to his house for traditional toureg tea. Cat and I were feeling a little sceptical and knew there had to be a catch (as they had all proved to us before, they would guilt trip us into paying for goods we didn't want), but the boys ended up going and us girls stayed behind and relaxed. They left at about 11am and would need to return by 1:30pm to return to the Nigerian embassy by 2pm. 1pm came and they were nowhere to be seen, 1:15 arrived and we started to get worried. 1:25 arrived and nothing. At about 1:40 we were getting stressed! Where were they? We had no phone to call them and they had left with a strange man in a dangerous country (not that we had felt any danger, but had been advised by the news and a few other travellers previous to our visit). My imagination started to go wild, with all kinds of bad scenarios going on in my head that could be taking place. Rob's mom would kill me if anything bad happened to him!!!
Well I was stressing for nothing and they strolled in at 1:50. They said it took forever for 1 tea to brew and they sat on the floor of this hut watching the world go by. They came back with stories of a small demon child that clobbered a baby chick with a batton, picked it up and threwing it in a pile of rubbish. This happened right in front of them, as if totally normal. Obviously fuelling Robs hatred for the kids in West Africa. And then the bombshell... he tried to sell them his merchandise. Telling them he had to bring food back home and needed the money. But he had spent the night before ordering beer after beer and was incredibly drunk with us, if he needed the money that badly he wouldn't have been drinking like that! (Aah, there's always a catch!) 
But they were back safe and sound, but we needed to motor back to the embassy. We arrived at about 2:15 and were once again told to sit and wait, luckily not bothered by our late arrival. Both me and Cat went through to the sofas while the boys stayed with security. Another hour and a bit of waiting and we finally left with our visas secured in our passports. Wahoooooo! 
(Later we found out that the rest of the travellers in the sleeping camel would have to wait 4days for theirs! Luck was certainly on our side once again!)

The next morning was time for the Burkina Faso visa. We arrived at 10am filled in the forms with 1passport copy and 2photos, paid the 24000CFA each (£27) and were told to come back at 2pm. Easy peasy! Another visa done and dusted with no hassle! 

The next couple of days we swapped stories and became close friends with a few very cool people on the truck, Jacob (from America), Yuki (from Japan) and Alex (from England). One of the days, we ended up going for lunch with them at a shack which Yuki and Jacob had told us about. They dished up a peanut stew with rice, and ghost chillies!! for only 1000CFA a bowl which is only £1.10. It was an amazing meal! Rob and I even shared one as it was so big!

That afternoon, back at the camp, we watched how Jacob would help Yuki to read in English. Yuki had chosen a very hard book to read, The Long Walk To Freedom on Nelson Mandela. Yuki reads 10 pages a day while Jacob corrects or helps pronounce words when needed. It was very impressive to watch, but Cat had an amazing suggestion (the teacher in her came out that day). She suggested Yuki read a paragraph, then for Jacob to ask a question about the paragraph to ensure Yuki understood what he was reading. What a brilliant suggestion as Yuki now had to comprehend what he was reading. He was learning more this way and he loved it. 
Such a great suggestion and I wish someone had taken the time to do the same for me when learning Afrikaans in school. I might then be able to understand the language.
While Cat was engrossed in watching Yuki learn, the boys played M枚lkki (Finnish game). A game with 12 sticks that you had to hit with another stick at a distance. If you hit down only one stick you would get the number of points that was written on that individual stick. If you hit more than one you would be awarded only the number of sticks that were down. If you hit all down you would earn a complimentary tequila shot on the house. You had to aim to reach 50points, if you went over 50 you would automatically drop your points to 25. The first team to reach 50 would win! Brilliant game and they played for hours!

That night was another drunken affair as the campsite held a "pub quiz" night. The place was throbbing as the campsite filled with people. Some from the embassies around the area, some from the UN, and the rest travellers. It was heaving! We had joined a table with some of the UN guys and would end up coming last, not that we were complaining as we earned a free bottle of tequila for being the losers! Awesome!!! Saying that though, one of the UN guys said to us that they all earn a fortune with nowhere to spend it...  and as we are tight as anything and only buy beers during their happy hour to save on cash... he mentioned that they would buy us drinks all through the evening and not to bat an eyelid. This is totally foreign to us as we like paying our way, but they insisted. 
Later that evening Cat had retired early after possibly one too many tequila's, while the 3 of us went to the local club with some of the UN guys and the sleeping camel owner, Matt. It was most certainly an eye opener! The club was air conditioned (amazing!), had about 5 pool tables in it and 2 dance floors pumping out some serious tunes out of massive speakers surrounding the rooms. Behind the bar there were about 7 Moroccan ladies (strangely, they seem to have put powder on their skin to make it look more white), that would offer their services during the evening to men at the bar. Most of these UN guys did not even have to lift their hands to have a drink, as the Moroccan girls would put a straw in their drink and hold the glass up for them. Totally baffling! I joined Matt and a few others on the dance floor while Rob tried playing pool by African rules, not being too successful but giving it a good go (might also be because he was becoming incredibly intoxicated and funny to watch). I was surprised to see the girls and guys on the dance floor all standing in a line dancing and watching themselves infringement of the mirrors which surrounded the dance floor. Not dancing with each other, but to and with themselves.
During the evening, there was a big 4 tiered cake that they brought onto the dance floor. I was told that this was an engagement party and they were all there to celebrate. Even her bridesmaids were in matching outfits. Hugs and kisses, selfies and photos would continue for ages until the music was turned up and everyone filled the dance floor to dance together.
Eventually at about 3:30am we decided to start heading back to camp. Trying to get Rob to leave was tough as he refused to leave his Jack Daniels behind, but also was so drunk he wouldn't or couldn't drink it. Eventually he gave up and left with us.

The next morning I learned why he didn't want to leave without his Jack Daniels. He had bought a whole bottle for 50000CFA (£56)!!!! The UN guys were buying bottles all evening and he was getting free drinks from them as firmly instructed by them earlier in the night. But, for whatever reason he went and bought a bottle anyway. Blowing our £50 a day budget in a matter of seconds!!! Already the visas we had bought had killed the budget and we were on £80 a day in Mali without this blow out!
I was fuming! We try to be so careful with our spending, as the more we blow, the less time we get to travel! He certainly has some grovelling to do!

We eventually said goodbye to the Sleeping Camel with its comfy lounge chairs, hot showers, fantastic food and good English company! With all the travel advice and the fact that we had spent all our tourist money, we decided we couldn't spend more time exploring Mali so we headed to Sikasso (the town before the border to Burkina Faso) where we ended up staying in a very fancy hotel's car park as there was no campsite around. We enjoyed a dip in the pool and one last roam in town before bedtime. Tomorrow would be the border!

It was once again sad to leave Mali. This country is absolutely beautiful! The country side is fascinating and the people are a real asset as they wave with big smiles as you pass them. We travelled on beautiful roads and enjoyed every second of being in this amazing place. 

We passed through a few checkpoints and 1 toll for 500CFA (£0.56) until we got to the border crossing. At the barrier we went into a building on the left where they stamped our passports out, then over the road to the customs department where they stamped our vehicles out of the country. 
At this post there was a man asking me if I was ok with this weather? I was confused at first but then remembered this was the 'cold' season, as I was wearing shorts and a vest and he was in long pants and a puffer coat. On average it's about 25-35 degrees every day and this was roasting for us! In the summer months it would reach the 50's which I suppose he was used to. I told him about it being single digits back in the UK, and he finally understood. We laughed and said our goodbyes as we left Mali.
No bribes! No hassle!!
Then we entered the Burkina Faso side where we drove to the next barrier, this is where they stamped our passports at a building to the left where we chatted with the officials and watched the comings and goings of the bus' and taxi's. We were then told to drive 300metres to the last building, before the barrier, on the left where we would need a Laissez Passer Touristique (they would not accept our carnet) that was 5000CFA (£5.60) per car. After this we enjoyed another condensed milk coffee before our next point which I presume was a police check in a building down the road to the right. The gentlemen wrote our names on his book and the car details and we were in Burkina.
Again no hassle! No bribes!! And it only took 1 and half hours!

Our next stop would be town Sindou. This is home to the popular Sindou Peaks which were absolutely breathtaking. Although we didn't go to them, they looked beautiful in the distance. They are towers of rock, sculpted by the elements and stand tall over the landscape. We decided we would walk through town and see how the locals live. Walking through the dusty roads, men would be in their huts behind sewing machines, women carrying wood and all name of things on their heads, children running around and mopeds driving up and down. Eventually we found a little cafe where we had coffee and a little donut type treat which came to 300CFA per couple.... That's £0.33... Costa needs to see these prices! 馃槣

In the morning we were met by the camp owner that gave us paperwork to fill out and accepted our 2000CFA per car for the camping fee (£2.25). We are going to love these prices! 
Later that morning, the chief of police came to say our paperwork wasn't filled in correctly. The 7 didn't have a line through it and therefore he couldn't understand it. Next to the space where it asks for a bungalow number, we put tent. He said we should have crossed bungalow number out. And he continued in this way... Well he was on a power trip and giving hell to the poor owner and us. Nothing aggressive, just difficult. 
We were then told to go to the police station after packing up. Oh cramp! All this just because of paperwork? 
We arrived and he was nowhere to be seen. Eventually a police officer came out and asked for our passports. We gave them to him and he just wrote our details in his book and sent us on our way. What was that all about? No money was asked for and no explanation. Weird!

Our next stop was Banfora. Here we decided to go check out the Karfiguela Waterfalls and the D么mes de Fabedougou. We made our way there over another tight road that was mostly driven on by mopeds, not big landrovers. But we made it and arrived at a little information booth. Here we asked the guy how much it would all cost. He assured us 1000CFA per person. Great! So he cycled down the track and showed us where we could park our cars (300CFA parking fee). We walked up the path with this guy in tow. We wondered through a beautiful array of mango trees and up a rocky track until we got to our first sight of the waterfall. Absolutely beautiful! But we continued in our ascent along side the waterfall until we reached some of the pools at the top. This is where we jumped in with all our clothes on and enjoyed the contrast from the hot sun to the cold water. We ended up jumping off some of the rocks while the boys got more adventurous doing flips into the water. Such fun!
Next was the D么mes, which was about a 2km walk in the scorching sun! It was absolutely roasting in the heat, but we were glad we had jumped in with our clothes on and keeping us cool while we walked across the rocky floor until we got to a massive pipe. This pipe supplies the water to the town below, Banfora. We would walk along this pipe until we got to the rock formations (like the ones in Sindou) which we would climb up to the top to look over Burkina. Absolutely breathtaking!
We paid the man at the D么mes our 2000CFA (£2.25) per couple and would then make our way back to our cars. Once arriving back at the cars the man that towed along then said his guide price was 10000CFA (£11.25). What!? We had asked him how much it all costed and he never said anything about his price. We paid feeling like we had gotten ripped off again, even if it was great having him there to direct us, it's more the principal that we had asked what the total price would be up front. As we drove out and passed the security desk they told us we needed to pay another 1000CFA per person for the D么mes??? Again! Why didn't he tell us!? 
It's things like that, that really piss us off! It puts a real dampener on your experience. But we decided to ignore the cost and only focus on the good morning we had. It was time for lunch, so we headed to McDonald for burgers. Not the American fast food McDonalds, but the African McDonald. A charming little restaurant in the heart of the town with Art hanging off of all the walls. Fantastic food! A real must if you are travelling through Banfora.

We arrived at the campsite called Boabab Campement. It looked lovely and soon found out it was run by a Frenchmen. It was very basic with a hole in the floor toilet and bucket showers. But we loved it! They said camping would be 1000CFA per person, which ones again made us a very happy bunch! We went to bed early and would make our way to the next campsite where we could visit the Tengrela river and hopefully see home hippos. We woke up early to make the most of our day and were ones again greeted with a bill that said 1500 per person and 1000 for the car??? What? We were getting ripped off again, even after confirming the price the night before. But with our very little French it wasn't worth getting into an argument about it. We have decided, however, to pay up front for everything, or get the quotes in writing before hand.

We arrived to the next campsite (Farafina Campement) and were greeted by the most friendly owner that gave us a grand tour of his Campement. We agreed a price and mentioned how we had been made fools of previously in Burkina. But he was lovely and ensured us that would not happen with him and we paid for the camping there and then. (1000CFA per person) perfect!! He showed us his army of crocodiles which he was breeding to release into the river as numbers were becoming very low and ultimately effecting their tourism. He seemed incredibly proud, and so he should be. He then showed us the bats that would sleep in his big tree during the day and would fly out over his camp at night. Very cool to see them in daylight! He then continued his tour and showed us some of his artwork and played us a very cool tune on his African instruments. His name was Solo and was such an incredible host! 

He organised a pirogue trip for us the next morning (2000CFA each = £2.25) and needed to be ready for 5:45 in the morning, as it would be the best time to see the hippos.

So we set up camp and would find a nice spot for lunch. 
We walked up the road admiring the little village huts and little shops along the way. Greeting everyone we walked past. We found a lovely restaurant/cafe on the main road and thought we would get food there. It was so hot that day we thought we couldn't walk any further even if we wanted to... Shade and a cold drink was calling!

We ordered whole chickens each (they are small here, nothing like the mass fed ones at home!), which according to the Burkinas you HAVE to eat with your hands. Robs worst nightmare as he likes food to come already deboned. But he gave it a go, and when he couldn't take it anymore gave it to Charles and Cat to polish off. It was Devine and the flavours amazing! 

We noticed the chicken balls were still attached, and a Rob being squeamish with this food already. I dared him to eat one... Which I never thought he would do. But he did it as long as I never brought up him blowing our money on the Jack Daniels ever again! (Obviously fed up of grovelling.. Lol!) I thought this was a fair bet and to my horror.... he did it!!!!

Back at the camp site we enjoyed another, under the stars, bucket shower while watching the village over the wall go about their jobs. This is incredibly liberating and such fun!! A real touch of Africa living!

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Senegal - Mali border

The road leading to Kedougou was less than desirable as we dodged some seriously large potholes. Some of the road was good and then a massive pothole would creep up on you and you would be swerving all over the road. Then the tar would end and you'd be doing some serious off-roading alongside trucks and top heavy buses. But the boys did amazingly as they drove on this roads with pizzaz, making our heavy vehicles dodge around these potholes as if they were dancers on ice!

In the morning, we headed off from Relais de Kedougou (one of the only campements in town to let us camp in the car park) at 7am in hope to get through the border by midday so we could make our way to a decent campsite in Mali. We all have our wits about us since news about the terrorist hostage event in late November in a hotel in Bamako(where we need to be for more visas). We are aware that they have hightened security until March around the city, which I suppose is a good thing and probably one of the safest times, in reality, to visit Mali. But I suppose we will have to wait and see what Bamako brings when we get there.

We arrived at the Moussala border at 9am. The police check point was in a building to the right and we were greeted by 2 very friendly officers that stamped our passports out of Senegal. They wrote all our details into their notepad, no electronics here. But what a  calm and relaxing experience with no corruption. Just smiles and handshakes all round. (No money asked for!)
Then we drove to the next building (customs) which was only about 100metres down the road on the left. It was a cream building and here they too were friendly, all interested in our travels. Here they stamped our carnet out of Senegal (Again no money asked for).That all took about half an hour! No hassles, no fuss!
We then went over the bridge and now for the Mali side.

The buildings are on the left and the officers would direct us to where we needed to go. The first building was where they stamped our passports into Mali. Once again very friendly and happy! Then we were told to go to the next building (customs) where they told us the Carnet is not necessary for Mali, but we needed the Laissez Passer Touristique (entry permit for the vehicle). This cost 15000CFA (£17) for a 1month entry. Then back to the first building for a police stamp on the vehicle entry permit. No corruption, no bribes. 
Then at the barrier to enter Mali there was a building to the left where they made a note of the vehicle registration and name of the driver. We were done by 10:45! 

At that we decided to enjoy a very delicious Mali coffee (coffee with condensed milk) and buy some meat rolls (bones and all much to Robs dismay) at this border in one of the street stalls for our lunch later. Normally after a border crossing we are all on edge and feeling like we have been shafted. Meaning we would normally not stick around and would be out of there as quickly as we had got in. This was relaxed as we got to know all the border officials and were having a great time! Easiest border so far and highly recommended!

Last we had to pay a toll road fee of 500CFA (£0.55) and we were in Mali! 

We headed towards Cool Camp where we would spend our first night in Mali. The road to get there is a very uneven dirt track, as you try make your way slowly over the bashed up piste. It was a hard day's drive and very tiring! Beautiful scenery, and the people are amazing! When you drive past the little villages they wave and some of the kids even blew kisses back when you send them one. Such a happy feeling, no chance of frowns in this country! We had heard it was dangerous, but there was no signs of anything negative so far!

We were just glad we got the the border early so we could make it to camp on the same day. We were all saying how driving in one of the most dangerous countries at night wasn't the most ideal thing in the world, but we finally arrived just past 7:30 and were greeted by an extremely friendly man who spoke English! It's the small things that make your day! He was so welcoming and made us feel at home! It's worth a visit just for him! 

We finally have arrived in Bamako and at The Sleeping Camel, even with Charles' clutch fluid leaking and therefore meaning no clutch! This place is amazing and even has A HOT SHOWER (haven't had one since Zebra Bar! We will enjoy Mali by the looks of it so far! We are enjoying a cold beer and chatting with some awesome people here! 
VISA run tomorrow! 馃榿

Friday, 1 January 2016

New year in Senegal

After a long day of driving and getting lost, we finally arrived at Djidjack campsite ( on the the coast line close to Palmarin. The coordinates on the website were all wrong and took us into the heart of some very secluded villages. We pulled up outside one of the villages to check we had entered in the coordinates correctly and discuss plan B if need be.
Well, that was wishful thinking. As we stopped the cars, the whole village flocked towards us shouting for presents (cadeau in French). They obviously had never had a couple of cars like ours and people of our skin colour ever visit their villages. The cars were parked side by side, but there was no hope trying to chat about where to go next, as the kids and adults where literally surrounding each car, screaming, laughing, talking and pretty much climbing on top of each other to get a look at us and what was inside the cars. 
Rob had a pack of Mentos fruit sweets on the dash board, which was definitely what they were eyeing out. Rob picked up the packed and I was shocked. These are his prized possession and he refuses to share them with anyone if he can help it. This was his second last packed left and he was treasuring them. So I was shocked to see he was even entertaining the idea of giving these away. As he lifted them off the dash board, a hand swooped in as fast as lightening and snatched it away, leaving him with half the packet left in his hand. Rob and myself starred at each other in shock, as we thought 'what the hell just happened there!?'. The kids were now fighting over these sweets and there were Mentos flying all over the place. Of course Rob just handed the rest into the chaos and they lapped it up, eventually asking for more!! CADEAU, CADEAU, CADEAU.... the continuous demanding for more was unreal!
We decided to head back where we had come from and ask a hotel we had passed down the road if they could direct us. So slowly we edged the cars in reverse, eventually making the crowd disperse. Such a fun experience actually, however I think Rob would say otherwise as he couldn't get over how rude these kids were... Not even a thanks. And now he only has one packet left! Lol

We arrived into the campsite and were pleased to see Gill and Marlene in the campsite, they've almost become our travel parents by the way we keep bumping into them. We had heard so many nice things about this campsite, but were a little disappointed. The bungalows look really nice, but the camping seems such an after thought with the rubbish being dumped next to where you sleep. The next day, we enjoyed a good breakfast before wondering onto the beach and were greeted by a very awesome flat, blue ocean with an enormous shipwreck off the shoreline. It looked like it had been there for some time and the rust would eventually be its maker. We wondered along the beach front admiring the different shells and taking in the sights. A fantastic relaxing afternoon.

We decided we would not visit The Gambia as we had heard about its awful corrupt border and the corruption of the police force inside. Demanding money and making life hell for its tourists. There has not been one person we have met or read about recently that has said they enjoyed it. Most having been fined ridiculous amounts for one thing or another and having to fight against the police for your freedom. This just seems like hassle and money we don't have to just throw away. It's a pity, because we have heard it has some beautiful coast lines and they speak English!! It's the small things... Lol!

So we needed to start heading inland to make our way to Mali. We drove for two days until we got to Wassadou Camp ( It was expensive (they would only allow us to camp if we had dinner in the restaurant), but what a gem of a place. We drove up a long 4km dirt track, that seemed like it would go on forever. But we got to this secluded camp that overlooked the Gambia River. An absolute stunning spot!
Rob was also thrilled as they had a car ramp where Rob could look at a random jingle under the car we had developed after our desert driving. Rob, and his trusty helper Charles, pulled out the rear diff expecting to see a loose bearing or something along those lines, but unfortunately found nothing. So they put it all back together and joined us girls at the river view to soak up the sun and enjoy the sun going down.

Us girls have become quite the avid bird watchers as we sat there with our binoculars, cameras and bird books; truly looking the part, while watching the happenings of the river. It was fantastic and we started coming up with a list of awesome birds we were putting names to. We saw the following: Fish Eagles, Palm-nut Vultures, African Harrier Hawk, Pied kingfisher, Hamerkop, Hadeda, Grey Plantain Eater, plovers and one that drove us mad as we couldn't quite give it a name until day 2... A Black-crowned Night-heron. It was fantastic and so tranquil! 
Then the monkeys and baboons decended on the trees across from us giving us a show! They were hilarious as we watched them swinging from the trees, playing and fighting and just being hooligans. We watched them for hours until it was time to get ready for dinner.

Once again we ate like kings as they brought us our starters. Egg salad with a delicious mustard and vinegar dressing. Then for mains which was marinated beef cubes and rice and then for desert which was a fruit salad. It was amazing and totally worth it! 

In the morning we wanted to leave early to find out about the Niokolo-Koba National Park and find out about their entrance fees. Apparently this park has wildlife, but much less than the Game reserves down south as unfortunately, its been subjected to hunting and poaching, so we were already a little sceptical as to its prices and whether it would be worth it. 
They said we were unable to enter the park without a guide and therefore one needed to come in each vehicle. That however, would be a problem since we only have 2 seats in each car, but this was no issue for them as they would just sit on the roof.... Yes that's right, they would just sit on the roof of our cars!? England's health and safety department would have a heart attack if they knew. Lol!
So it would cost 10000CFA per guide, 6000CFA per person, 10000CFA per vehicle and 5000CFA camping fee, so that is 37000CFA (£41) per day per couple! Ouch!!! So we decided against this and would do our game drives down south where there would be a better chance of seeing animals and we could drive at our own pace without a guide.

So we headed into town to grab a few supplies and would head back to Wassadou as it was New Year's Eve we thought a nice campsite would go down just a treat! Our first mission was to draw more cash before heading to Mali, but all the banks were either not working or had a massive queue. So no option, but to joined the queue, if you can call it that!? In England you queue in an orderly line and wait your turn, here you just stand amoung the crowd and hopefully someone will be nice and let you go in front of them. It took about half an hour but we got to have a chat with the locals. One asked me if I was married, of course I confirmed I was and that he was in Senegal with me. I asked him whether he was married and he said no. Then he asked if I had children, after telling him I didn't, he was shocked. "Why do you not have children?" He asked puzzled. "You should have children!" He couldn't understand that I did not want them. In Senegal, the more the merrier. There's something wrong with you if you don't. In the end to get him to stop asking questions and looking at me funny, I told him I would have later, not now. And he seemed happy enough with that. Very amusing!
Then downtown, we made friends with a few of the kids. They kept up their usual tricks asking for CADEAU, CADEAU, CADEAU.... we decided we would trick them into forgetting about asking for presents and asked them their names and had a bit of a chat. When we mentioned a photo, they were all in there and happy to be in it. One guy was a little weird and kept smelling my armpit!! Yes, smelling my armpit! It was roasting that day and I'm not shy to say I was hot and a little sweaty! The poor kid should have fallen over with the fumes, but then again, if I don't say so myself, I smelt better than them. So I'm just gonna go with my lingering perfume being the thing he was smelling 馃槣馃槣馃槣

We left them with big goodbyes and now in search of booze. As I got out to ask the petrol stations where we could find, they directed us back into town. When I got back to the car Cat had seen a chicken stall where they cook whole chickens on hot flames and add onion, secret chicken spices, mayonnaise and mustard. It smelt amazing so we ordered one as well for lunch. It was New Year's Eve after all!

Once back at the campsite the owner told us that the price was more for New Year's Eve as they had a big menu planned and show/party. He told us drinks were included, and that was us sold. It would cost 49200CFA (£54) for the night. Ouch! But it was so worth it! We spent the rest of the day vegging by the river Gambia reuniting ourselves with our birds and baboons. Brilliant afternoon! 
We had to be at the restaurant for 7pm so at 6pm we had to say goodbye to our hooligan friends and try make ourselves look a little bit presentable. Cold showers all round and some smarter looking clothes were dug out of our clothes boxes. Cat and I even put on makeup! It was really nice feeling pretty again! We've gotten so used to not putting on makeup that it was a nice change. To think at home in the uk, I'd never step foot outside the house without makeup! Things certainly have changed!

We were in for a treat! 5 course meal with fresh bread out the oven, white wine, red wine and champagne! And then for the show. Senegalese people from the neighbouring villages dancing and singing to drums. They had different dances for different things, like a dance to bless the peanut and wheat crops and a rain dance. The host was hilarious and tried his best to converse in English with us. Cat and I even got pulled up to join in and try their local dancing styles. It was brilliant fun and we got to see 2016 happen with a bang Senegelese style! 

We hope you all had wonderful celebrations as we did! And wish you all the best for 2016 in life, love, work, and travel! Happy new year everyone!!! 馃嵕馃帀馃挒馃榿